News

Obamacare site at ‘high risk’ before launch

Obamacare site at ‘high risk’ before launch

HEALTHCARE HEADACHES: The Obamacare website has been plagued with problems since its launch. Photo: Associated Press

By Jim Finkle

BOSTON (Reuters) – The security of the Obama administration’s healthcare website was at “high risk” because of lack of testing before it opened for enrollment on Oct. 1, according to a government memorandum reviewed by Reuters on Wednesday.

The HealthCare.gov site collects a trove of sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers and birth dates that could be used by criminals in an array of schemes.

A government spokeswoman said on Wednesday that steps to mitigate security concerns have been implemented since the memo was written on September 27 and that consumer data is secure.

“From a security perspective, the aspects of the system that were not tested due to the ongoing development exposed a level of uncertainty that can be deemed as a high risk,” said the memo from Department of Health and Human Services officials James Kerry and Henry Chao.

The memo recommended the creation of a dedicated security team, weekly testing of servers, daily scans and a full security assessment within 60 to 90 days of launch. It provided for a temporary, six-month authority to operate the system.

According to the document, the recommendation was approved by Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the lead agency at HHS managing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.

The law, Obama’s signature domestic policy, was passed in his first term and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. It mandates everyone have health insurance or pay a fine and created online marketplaces for people to choose plans.

The September 27 memo came up during a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday to question HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about technical problems that have stalled access to the website for millions of consumers. Sebelius confirmed its main points and said the plan to ensure security was underway.

Sebelius said that the site had a temporary certificate, known as an “authority to operate” and that the agency would issue a permanent certificate once security concerns were alleviated.

Yet HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said that during the interim the public need not worry about the security of data entered on the site, which helps them identify and enroll in health insurance plans.

“When consumers fill out their online Marketplace applications, they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure,” she said.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s state-run online exchange disclosed on Wednesday that it had experienced five attempted cyber attacks, including two from a foreign country.

“We had to get the NSA involved,” Kevin Counihan, executive director of the exchange that is known as Access Health CT, told reporters on a conference call.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Agency declined comment. Counihan said the exchange had passed cybersecurity tests before it opened on Oct. 1.

Recent Headlines

10 hours ago in National, Olympics, Sports

Flame lands in troubled Brazil for 94-day relay to Games

21-overlay-1

President Dilma Rousseff lit the Olympic torch in Brazil's capital on Tuesday and pledged that political turmoil engulfing her nation would not harm the first Games to be held in South America.

10 hours ago in National, World

Islamic State kills U.S. Navy SEAL in northern Iraq

10-overlay-1

Islamic State militants killed a U.S. serviceman in northern Iraq on Tuesday after blasting through Kurdish defences and overrunning a town in the biggest offensive in the area for months.

17 hours ago in Entertainment

Jim Beam fills 14 millionth bottle of bourbon

jimbeam807686855761

Jim Beam has filled and sealed its 14 millionth barrel of bourbon since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, achieving a first in the bourbon industry.

17 hours ago in Entertainment, Viral Videos

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ as told by emojis

11-overlay-2

If the blockbuster movie was told entirely by characters on your cell phone.

17 hours ago in Sports

Cavaliers beat Hawks in series opener

14-overlay-1

A week off did not disrupt the Cleveland Cavaliers' momentum, nor was it enough time to alter the Atlanta Hawks' history against them. The Cavaliers still have never lost to the Hawks in the postseason, but this one was not easy.